The picture of an alcoholic is someone who is always drunk, and their life is falling apart because of it. But that’s not always the reality. Some people seem to be just fine even though they abuse alcohol. Experts call these people “high-functioning” alcoholics.
“You can be one even though you have a great outside life, with a job that pays well, home, family and friendships, and social bonds,” says Sarah Allen Benton, a licensed mental health counselor and the author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic. Although it’s now called “Alcohol Use Disorder,” you’ll still hear a lot of people talking about “alcoholism” or “alcohol abuse.” It’s a condition that ranges from mild to moderate to severe. And it’s still problem drinking, even if you think it’s mild.
“In denial, a functional alcoholic might not act the way you would expect him to act,” Benton says. They might be responsible and productive. The person could even be a high achiever or in a position of power. If fact, their success might lead people to overlook the drinking. The drinker could also be in denial. They might think, “I have a great job, pay my bills and have lots of friends; therefore, I am not an alcoholic,” Benton says. Or they might make excuses like, “I only drink expensive wine” or “I haven’t lost everything or suffered setbacks because of drinking.”
The individual might think they are doing fine. Robert Huebner, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns, “No one can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities over long periods of time. If someone drinks heavily, it’s going to catch up with them.”
Heavy drinking is four or more drinks per day for men, three or more for women. Women absorb alcohol faster than men, mainly due to the fact that men having more water weight while women have more body fat. What is binge drinking? If, within a continuous two-hour period, a man consumes five or more drinks or a woman consumes four or more drinks, it is considered bingeing.
In law enforcement, we could possibly have a good number of high-functioning alcoholics. It’s part of the culture, but it needs to change for our health and safety. You have to ask yourself the hard questions: “Am I drinking too much?” “Am I drinking more than a normal working man or woman?” “What can I do to cut back on my drinking?”
Take a look at your drinking behaviors and those of your friends. If any of this hits home or you know someone on the edge, take steps to stop problem drinking. Think about making some changes. It’s time to be proactive. So reach out for help and develop a plan to get sober. Psychological Services Bureau (PSB)/Substance Abuse Resource Program (SARP) is a good place to start. This will be one of your best calls to preserve your future success. Call PSB at (213) 738-3500. You can also contact the Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) from the list here. There is no better time than now!